Low-key launch for Freeview Australia

Despite the presence of the Minister for Communications, as well as all of the free-to-air networks, there was a fairly quiet response to the soft-launch on Monday night of Freeview Australia, the new marketing strategy for the country’s digital-terrestrial platform.

Press reaction to the launch was muted, with little coverage in the national press or on television, even on the free-to-air networks involved. Perhaps they thought they had done enough with a prime-time 60-second announcement splashed across all of the free-to-air networks, the first time all of the broadcasters have pooled resources for a major television campaign. The campaign will use some A$50 million of airtime over the next year, not including time allocated by the ABC.

A website has launched as well, but the actual service won’t officially launch until 2009. Then, there will be 15 channels (see image below) along with the Freeview EPG; Freeview-badged set-top boxes, integrated digital TVs and a digital video recorder.

But maybe the muted reaction was because there is, as yet, precious little new content on the platform to shout about. So far it is confined to ABC2, plus high definition channels from the commercial networks (which in reality show only small amounts of programming different to the main networks) and mutli-language SBS2. More will come next year, when the major commercial networks launch their standard-definition multichannels. One, the new sports channel from Ten Network, has already been announced, but Seven and Nine’s plans, if indeed they have any, remain under wraps.

Public broadcasters the ABC and SBS are both keen to launch new services, but need new cash if they are to do so. Both are lobbying the government for more funds in their next settlements, with the ABC explicitly asking for money for a free-to-air, ad-free, childrens’ channel.

There is no spectrum available to be leased to other broadcasters, unlike elsewhere such as the UK or New Zealand. So Australian viewers will have to content themselves with seeing the same broadcasters’ names on their screens even in the Freeview age.